As expected, the Philadelphia Flyers announced today that they have returned 19-year-old defensive prospect Jeff Woywitka to the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. The Flyers’ first round draft selection in 2001 (27th overall), Woywitka recorded one assist and two penalty minutes in four exhibition games with the team this season.
He returns to Red Deer for his fourth (and likely final) season of junior hockey. From 1999-2000 through 2001-2002, Woywitka recorded 88 points (25 goals, 63 assists) and 262 PIMs in 211 games. Last season, he posted career highs in goals (14) and points (37), and was named to the WHL East Division Second All-Star Team.
The 6-3, 205 lb. Vermillion, Alberta native is generally considered to be the organization’s second-best blueline prospect, behind 2002 first round draft pick Joni Pitkanen. Woywitka made a good impression at this year’s training camp — his second with the Flyers — and is expected to challenge for a spot on the big club next season.
At this point, Woywitka’s most glaring need is strength. That should come with time (and a little extra effort in the weight room), as he is still growing into his body. He will get all the ice-time he can handle this season at Red Deer, where he has a firm believer in Rebels head coach Brent Sutter (who Bob Clarke recently called “probably the best coach in junior hockey”).
With “>Bruno St. Jacques and Dennis Seidenberg battling over the last remaining vacancy on the Flyers’ blueline, Woywitka’s assignment to Red Deer was essentially a no-brainer. Even if he somehow beat out one of the aforementioned prospects, he would be no better than the team’s seventh defenseman. In such a role, Woywitka surely would not receive the amount of playing time essential to his development at this early stage of his career.
Keep in mind that Woywitka is not yet eligible to play in the AHL and, thus, an assignment to the Phantoms was not an option. Players are not eligible to play in the AHL until thier junior eligibility runs out. (Junior eligibility expires two years after a player is eligible for the NHL Entry Draft or after he plays four full seasons at the junior level.)
With the departure of Woywitka, the Flyers’ training camp roster now stands at 30 players (18 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders).
Remaining with the big club are:
Donald Brashear, Pavel Brendl, Todd Fedoruk, Simon Gagne, Mark Greig, Michal Handzus, Guillaume Lefebvre, John LeClair, Marty Murray, Keith Primeau, Paul Ranheim, Mark Recchi, Jeremy Roenick, Andre Savage, Mike Siklenka, Patrick Sharp, Radovan Somik and Justin Williams
Eric Desjardins, Kim Johnsson, Chris McAllister, Dan McGillis, Bruno St. Jacques, Dennis Seidenberg, John Slaney, Chris Therien and Eric Weinrich
Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche and Neil Little
*Note: Head coach Ken Hitchcock had expected to make another round of roster cuts early this week, but injuries to Williams (sprained left knee) and McAllister (broken nose) have altered his plans. For now, Hitchcock wants to see as much of Brendl, Lefebvre, Sharp, Somik, St. Jacques and Seidenberg as he can. Thus, expect to see plenty of these prospects as the exhibition schedule winds down. The Flyers host the Rangers on Tuesday, visit the Islanders on Wednesday, then wrap-up the preseason campaign at Washington on Saturday afternoon.